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Co-op programs steer arts majors toward careers

University Business, September 2018
RÉSUMÉ BUILDER—University of Cincinnati student Devon Hensler helped design toys at Fisher-Price. She got hands-on experience with the company as part of a program that prepares fine arts majors for careers.
RÉSUMÉ BUILDER—University of Cincinnati student Devon Hensler helped design toys at Fisher-Price. She got hands-on experience with the company as part of a program that prepares fine arts majors for careers.

What can you do with a fine arts degree? Well, the University of Cincinnati wants students in its College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning to start mapping out that career trajectory long before they graduate.

Since 2015, the college’s five-year Bachelor of Fine Arts program has required students to participate in a cooperative education experience with three semesters of embedded experience outside the classroom.

In the past, students were not “forced to grapple with the realities of what they’ll do after they graduate,” says Assistant Professor Aaron Bradley, who helped develop the program.

“Now, as early as their second year, they’re having to make conscious choices about how to curate a body of work that points toward how they want to use their degree.”

Co-op students have designed toys for Fisher-Price and curated gallery exhibits.

Enrollment nearly doubled the year after the initiative launched. Bradley attributes some of this increase to parents feeling more confident about post-graduation employment.

Bradley and other college faculty spent a substantial amount of time making connections with businesses, artists, galleries and museums, and nonprofit organizations willing to employ a student for a semester.

Another co-op model

Students at Drexel University’s Westphal College of Media Arts and Design must participate in a six-month co-op program, usually in their junior year. Majors at the Philadelphia school include animation, dance, fashion design, music industry and screenwriting.

Before the co-op experience, Westphal students take a class covering professional etiquette, résumé writing, interviewing, job searching and other job skills.

“The faculty are always thinking about careers,” says Melanie Krauss, Drexel’s associate director of cooperative education.

Even dance students who are hoping to perform are challenged to consider what they’ll do after their performance career ends.

In addition to work experience, co-ops provide network-building opportunities—and leverage those connections during future job searches.

“One thing that’s extremely important for art and design students is the networking they do,” she says. “While they’re working, we encourage them to talk to as many people in the company as possible.”